Action & Attention lab

The objective of the research conducted in our lab is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie the goal-directed actions of people from average and special populations such as down syndrome, autism, and dsytonia.

Areas of Focus

  • selective attention
  • perception-action coupling
  • planning and control of goal-directed aiming movements.

Information about each area is provided below.

It is our hope that once a detailed knowledge of the processes underlying behaviour has been developed, the scientific and clinical communities can work together to create the optimal rehabilitative, learning, and working conditions necessary to facilitate the performance of all members of society.

Research Programs

Overview

The long-term goal of my overall research program is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cognitive and neural processes that underlie goal-directed action in individuals from average and special populations. It is my hope that, once this detailed theoretical and applied knowledge has been developed, the scientific and clinical communities can work together to create the optimal rehabilitative, learning, and working conditions necessary to facilitate the performance of all members of society.

To achieve these research goals, I direct an integrated lab that employs both behavioural (e.g., eye and limb movement recording) and neurophysiological (e.g., transcranial magnetic stimulation) methodologies to gain insight into the neural control of action and the interactions between perceptual, attentional, and motor systems.

In addition, we have conducted research into the processes involved in learning new motor skills and the neural basis of coordination. Below are summaries of each of the main areas of research. At first glance, these areas of research seem to be quite diverse and distinct from one another. There exists, however, a great potential for an integration of ideas and theories across these different areas to make significant advances to our overall knowledge of the planning and control of movement.

Although the study of attention and movement began over a century ago, it has only been until the last few decades that these two processes have been examined in the same tasks. This newer area of research on the interactions between action and attention emerged because of: 1) evidence of a significant overlap and integration of cortical areas responsible for attention and action planning; and, 2) the realization that the attention system developed through evolution to provide information for the production of goal-directed movements (e.g., aiming, grasping, and throwing) and not the fairly arbitrary keypress responses typically used selective attention research.

This recent research has led to the development of action-centered theories and models of attention. The main tenet of action-centered attention is that the processes of attention and action are so tightly linked that: 1) the distribution and capture of attention is determined, in part, by the to-be-performed action; and, 2) that the capture of attention by a particular object automatically activates response producing processes that are generated to allow the individual to interact with the object. The research conducted in our lab tests both of these hypothesized influences by exploring how the efficiency of responses afforded by a given stimulus affects attentional capture and how attentional capture by specific stimuli influence action execution.

Recent Representative Publications

Ray, M., Weeks, D.J., & Welsh, T.N. (2014) Distractor interference during a choice limb reaching task. Public Library of Science–ONE, 9, e85961. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0085961.

Welsh T.N., Neyedli, H.F., & Tremblay, L. (2013). Refining the time course of facilitation and inhibition in attention and action. Neuroscience Letters, 554, 6-10.

Welsh, T.N. (2011). The relationship between attentional capture and deviations in movement trajectories in selective reaching tasks. Acta Psychologica, 137, 300-308.

Many models of the human information processing system conceptualize it as a one-way stream with the motor system at the end and working as an output system that is engaged only after receiving the products of higher-order cognitive processes.

The results of more recent experiments, however, have revealed that the motor system plays an active role in information processing and contributes to cognitive processes, such as attention and perception. Much of this evidence has emerged from research that is rooted in ideomotor theory. Proponents of ideomotor (aka common coding) theory suggest that the codes for a response and the perceptual consequences of that response are bound in common representations.

The main implication of this system is that the common codes allow for a bidirectional pathway between responses and after-effects; activation of an after-effect code evokes the response code that would bring about that effect and, likewise, activation of the response code evokes the after-effect code. Hence, one can excite the needed response (e.g., press a pedal) by determining the after-effect one wants to produce (e.g., stop a car), or one can predict the after-effect when a response is selected. The research conducted in our lab is aimed at developing an understanding of how a common coding system facilitates the planning and execution of actions in individual and joint action contexts.

This work involves:

  1. The use of TMS to explore the changes in corticospinal excitability during the observation of action or the perception of the effects of a specific action;
  2. The recording of an individual’s movement patterns in social interactions to understand the ways in which people coordinate actions with other people; and
  3. The analysis of people’s action possibility judgments to understand how people perceive action. Our research in this area has also involved several important research partnerships.

The first collaboration involves Drs. Ali Mazalek (Ryerson), Micheal Nitsche (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Sanjay Chandrasekharan (Tata) on the development and testing of new embodied and tangible human-computer interfaces.

The second partnership involves a recent extension of the research on action perception in which we are now exploring the processes underlying the human ability to understand the actions of nonhuman animals and to empathize and attribute human characteristics to (anthropomorphize) nonhuman animals. For this latter work, we are grateful for the support of Joel Sartore, renowned wildlife photographer and creator of the Photo Ark project.

Recent Representative Publications

Welsh, T.N., McDougall, L.M., & Paulson, S.D. (2014). The personification of animals: Coding of human and nonhuman body parts based on posture and function. Cognition, 132, 398–415.

Böckler, A., van der Wel, R.P., & Welsh, T.N. (2014). Catching eyes: Effects of social and non-social cues on attention capture. Psychological Science, 25, 720-727.

Wong, L., Manson, G., Tremblay, L., & Welsh. T.N. (2013). On the relationship between action execution, perception, and imagination. Behavioral Brain Research, 257, 242-252.

Mazalek, A., Welsh, T.N., Nitsche, M., Reid, C., Clifton, P., Leighton, F., & Tan, K. (2013). Reach across the boundary: evidence of physical tool appropriation following virtual practice. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 155-158.

Welsh T.N., Wong, L., & Chandresekharan, S. (2013). Factors that affect action possibility judgments: The assumed abilities of other people. Acta Psychologica, 143, 235-244.

Everyone can complete a seemingly endless list of “simple” goal-directed movements. The relative ease with which these actions are performed, however, conceals the complexity of the perceptual, attentional, and memory-based processes that are independently and interactively engaged each time we move.

For example, it is widely held that each individual aiming movement that we execute consists of two main components – a ballistic pre-programmed component that reflects the movement plan that was formed to achieve the goal of the action, and a control component that corrects errors in the motor plan to ensure that the movement is completed accurately.

Although great advances in our understanding of the characteristics of goal-directed movements have been made, the manner in which different sensory modalities are used to plan and control actions and the neural centres that contribute to the planning and control of action is still largely unknown.

To enhance our understanding of these issues, our research in this area has focussed on:

  1. How different sources of sensory information are used to accurately plan and control rapid, goal-directed hand movement
  2. The contributions of an online control system to ensuring the accuracy of saccadic eye movements; and, 3) the manner in which individuals adjust the endpoints of their aiming movements when there is a penalty region in the movement environment.

Recent Representative Publications

Neyedli, H.F., & Welsh, T.N. (2014). People are better at maximizing expected gain in a manual aiming task with rapidly changing probabilities than with rapidly changing payoffs. Journal of Neurophysiology, 111, 1016-1026.

Heath, M., Weiler, J., Marriott, K. & Welsh, T.N. (2011). Vector inversion diminishes the online control of antisaccades. Experimental Brain Research. 209, 117-127.

West, G.L., Welsh, T.N., & Pratt, J. (2009). Saccadic trajectories receive online correction: Evidence for a feedback-based system of oculomotor control. Journal of Motor Behavior, 41, 117-126.

Scientific Team

Principal Investigator

Tim Welsh

Graduate Students

Matthew Ray (Ph.D. Candidate)

Kim Jovanov (M.Sc. student)

Skye Howard (M.Sc. student)

Sandra Pacione (M.Sc. student)

Emma Yoxon (M.Sc. student)

Undergraduate Students

Joseph Manzone

Collaborators

Anne Böckler (Max Planck)

Debra Dewey (University of Calgary)

Digby Elliott (Liverpool John Moores, McMaster University)

Matthew Heath (University of Western Ontario)

Ali Mazalek (Ryerson, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Micheal Nitsche (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Jay Pratt (University of Toronto)

Joel Sartore (Photo Ark)

Luc Tremblay (University of Toronto)

Robrecht van der Wel (Rutgers University)

Daniel Weeks (University of Northern British Columbia)

Alumni

Heather Neyedli (Dalhousie University)

Sanjay Chandrasekharan (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India)

Cheryl Glazebrook (University of Manitoba)

Selected Publications

Our research has been made possible through individual and team grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (Early Researcher Award), National Science Foundation, Canadian Institute of Health Research, and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. 

Note: Names in bold are postdoctoral, graduate, or undergraduate students Prof. Welsh supervised or co-supervised at the time of data collection.

Neyedli, H.F., & Welsh, T.N. (2014). People are better at maximizing expected gain in a manual aiming task with rapidly changing probabilities than with rapidly changing payoffs. Journal of Neurophysiology, 111, 1016-1026.

Welsh, T.N., McDougall, L.M., & Paulson, S.D. (2014). The personification of animals: Coding of human and nonhuman body parts based on posture and function. Cognition, 132, 398–415.

Böckler, A., van der Wel, R.P., & Welsh, T.N. (2014). Catching eyes: Effects of social and non-social cues on attention capture. Psychological Science, 25, 720-727.

Wong, L., Manson, G., Tremblay, L., & Welsh. T.N. (2013). On the relationship between action execution, perception, and imagination. Behavioral Brain Research, 257, 242-252.

Welsh T.N., Neyedli, H.F., & Tremblay, L. (2013). Refining the time course of facilitation and inhibition in attention and action. Neuroscience Letters, 554, 6-10.

Welsh T.N., Wong, L., & Chandresekharan, S. (2013). Factors that affect action possibility judgments: The assumed abilities of other people. Acta Psychologica, 143, 235-244.

Ray, M., Dewey, D., Kooistra, L., & Welsh, T.N. (2013). The relationship between the immediate and short-term effects of action observation on the motor system. Human Movement Science, 32, 400-411.

Mazalek, A., Nitsche, M., Chandrasekharan, S., Welsh, T., Clifton, P., Quitmeyer, A., Peer, F., & Kirschner, F. (2013). Recognizing your self in virtual avatars. International Journal of Arts and Technology, 6, 83-105.

Kiernan, D., Ray, M., & Welsh, T.N. (2012). Inverting the joint Simon effect by intention. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 19, 914-920.

Ray, M., & Welsh, T.N. (2011). Response selection during a joint action task. Journal of Motor Behavior, 43, 329-332.

Welsh, T.N. (2011). The relationship between attentional capture and deviations in movement trajectories in selective reaching tasks. Acta Psychologica, 137, 300-308.

Welsh, T.N., McDougall, L.M., & Weeks, D.J. (2009). The performance and observation of action shape future behaviour.Brain and Cognition, 71, 64-71.

Welsh, T.N., Hoang, S., Chandrasekharan, S., Paulson, S., Lynnes, A., & Ayres, F. (2009). Goal-directed Saccades of Young Adults with and without Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome Quarterly, 11, 10-15.

Note: Names in bold are postdoctoral, graduate, or undergraduate students Prof. Welsh supervised or co-supervised at the time of data collection.

Welsh, T.N., Chandrasekharan, S., Neyedli, H.F., Ray, M.C., Chua, R., & Weeks, D.J. (2012). Perceptual-motor interaction: Some implications for human-computer interaction. In, J.A. Jacko (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction Handbook (3nd Ed.). (pp.3-20). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Mazalek, A., Chandrasekharan, S., Nitsche, M., Welsh, T., & Clifton, P. (2011). Embodying self in virtual worlds. In, A. Peachey & M. Childs (Eds.), Reinventing Ourselves: Contemporary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds. (pp. 129-151) Springer-Verlag London.

Welsh, T.N., & Weeks, D.J. (2010). Visual selective attention & action. In D. Elliott and M.A. Khan (Eds.), Vision and Goal-Directed Movement: Neurobehavioral Perspectives. (pp.39-58). Human Kinetics, Champaign Illinois.

Welsh, T.N., & Elliott, D. (2000). The preparation and control of goal-directed limb movements in persons with Down syndrome. In D. Weeks, R. Chua, and D. Elliott (Eds). Perceptual-Motor Behavior in Down syndrome. (pp. 49-70). Champaign, IL.: Human Kinetics.

 

KPE Faculty

  • Professor